(Charlie Rosenberg, JPHS)
First in an occasional series highlighting a piece of neighborhood history.
Hardly a well-traveled highway, Jamaica Plain's McBride Street, running from South Street to Washington Street, once was home to a beautiful European-style Inn whose old-country architecture resonated with the many immigrants flooding into JP a century ago.
The Coffee Tree Inn, founded in 1898, was located at 16 McBride (formerly Keyes) St. The owners of the inn were three Boston beer brewers seeking a retail outlet for their products produced with the beer-friendly spring waters of Mission Hill and the crystalline Stony Brook aquifer. One of the owners, Henry A. Reuter, was president of the United States Brewers’ Association and owned the Highland Spring brewery at Heath and Parker Streets, Roxbury.
The McBride Street neighborhood was called “Little Ireland.” It’s not known whether typical inn accommodations were available for travelers but there was plenty of beer for transients and locals alike.
The inn was named for a coffee tree that once grew on the site. This was not the typical coffee tree plant that yields the morning brew we all enjoy, but was more likely the Kentucky coffee tree whose bean is thought to be poisonous if not thoroughly roasted.
The Kentucky tree yields a very low-grade beverage. Believed to be rather rare in this area, a specimen, with its long hanging bean pods, has been reported near the tennis courts behind Shattuck Hospital. The tree was memorialized on the Inn’s sign and in a tiled mosaic in the center of the Inn’s floor and the Inn’s image was etched on its shot glasses.
Blending English and German Tudor styles, Boston architect J. William Beal enhanced his solid brick design with stained glass windows, a beautifully finished wood interior and a massive red sandstone fireplace. The inn brought elegance to McBride Street that we who grew up there only recently have come to appreciate. It looked like the more affluent parts of Brookline and Newton where Tudor styles abound.
Next door to the inn, a blacksmith shop started in 1910 came under the ownership of the Lovett family in the mid-1930s. It survived until the early 1960s, providing the clip clop for Boston and MDC police horses as well as the several dairies around JP. The smithy was just another neighborhood sight and sound we took for granted.
The inn enjoyed a short life until 1920 when Prohibition shut it down. Someone who apparently thought the liquor ban would be lifted before it actually was repealed in 1933 made a failed revival attempt in 1924. Flaunting the law and keeping the neighborhood "wet," a couple of speakeasies are known to have flourished on McBride Street during the long dry spell.
The inn later became a wet-wash laundry, where laundry brought in today would be delivered wet, early next morning in a repainted hearse, to be hung on whatever clothesline arrangements you had at your home. The Joseph Yerkes family opened it in 1926 as the Washington Wet Wash, and they operated it within the relatively unchanged inn’s structure until 1966 when the laundry moved to Blue Hill Avenue and became The Jamaica Plain Laundry and Dry Cleaners.
The building was finally razed and the site is presently a parking lot for an upscale Irish pub across from the former inn’s site. The founding German brewers must surely be proud of the McBride Street tradition they started and the wisdom of the inn’s motto, “Enough is Good Use – Too Much is abuse.”
Peter O' Brien is a member of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
To read more about the rich history of Jamaica Plain, visit the Jamaica Plain Historical Society website at: http://www.jphs.org/.